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American-Born CEOs and Their Influence on Korea’s Economy

Conglomerate CEOs turn out to be black-haired foreigners
Leading distributor Coupang is a U.S. company
Who else was born in America?

KBS News

Coupang has become an indispensable distribution company in everyday life.

With its Rocket Delivery, Coupang, established by Chairman Kim Beom Seok, has garnered a strong consumer response. Although the founder’s name and his Korean heritage might lead many to assume Coupang is a Korean company, it is an American company.

This is because Kim Beom Seok is a so-called black-haired foreigner, a Korean-American.

Born in 1978, he immigrated to the U.S. at 7 with his father, an executive at a major corporation. He earned his bachelor’s degree in political science from Harvard and worked at Boston Consulting Group after graduation, living as a Korean-American.


He returned to Korea and founded Coupang in August 2010. Since then, he has transformed Coupang from a social commerce company into an e-commerce company and introduced Rocket Delivery, making it a formidable competitor to online and offline distributors.

Besides Seoul, Coupang has offices in Shanghai, Beijing, Los Angeles, Seattle, and Silicon Valley, employing over 50,000 people.

Even the largest shareholder is Japan’s SoftBank Vision Fund (Holding approximately 23.9% as of 2023), which resulted in Kim Beom Seok being excluded from the Fair Trade Commission’s designation of conglomerate heads in 2021.

Civil groups have harshly criticized this, stating, “Kim Beom Seok, a black-haired foreigner, enjoys the privileges of a large corporate owner but escapes from the regulations on embezzlement of family business profits.”

MBK Partners

Chairman Kim Byung Ju of MBK Partners, who recently made headlines by surpassing Lee Jae Yong, Chairman of Samsung Electronics, to become the wealthiest person, is also a black-haired foreigner.

According to Forbes, Kim Byung Ju’s assets last year were $9.7 billion, surpassing Lee Jae Yong’s $8 billion to rank first for the first time.

MBK Partners is the largest private equity fund operator in Northeast Asia. It was established in 2005 under the name Michael ByungJu Kim, derived from Kim Byung Ju’s English name.

Born in Jinju, Gyeongnam, in 1963, he left his home country in his teens for the U.S., majored in English literature at Haverford College, and completed an MBA program at Harvard.

Some argue that, according to Forbes‘ ranking, “the real wealthiest Korean is Samsung Chairman Lee Jae Yong.”

Korean Air

Although not a chairman, Cho Hyun Min, the youngest daughter of Hanjin Group, also holds U.S. citizenship.

She was born in the state of Hawaii, U.S.A. Her English name is Emily.

Cho Hyun Min, who has acquired U.S. citizenship, completed her elementary, middle, and high school education at Seoul Foreign School in Yeonhui-dong, Seodaemun-gu, Seoul. She then pursued her undergraduate studies in Communication at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

When Cho’s personal information was publicly disclosed in 2018 due to the water cup abuse controversy, the public strongly criticized her citizenship, saying, “While operating ‘Korean’ Air in Hanjin Group, they made their child a U.S. citizen.”


In addition, Lee Mi Kyung, Vice Chairman of CJ, also held U.S. citizenship.

She is a member of the Samsung family and was born while her father, Honorary Chairman Lee Maeng Hee, was studying in Michigan, the United States.

It is known that Ms. Lee Won Ju, daughter of Lee Jae Yong, Chairman of Samsung Electronics, was born in the U.S. and holds dual citizenship of the U.S. and Korea.

Vice Chairman Lee Kyu Ho, son of former Kolon Group Chairman Lee Woong Ryeol, was also born in the U.S. and held dual citizenship. Still, he volunteered to serve in the army and completed his military service. After being discharged from the military, he is known to have renounced his U.S. citizenship.

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